NeilyWorld Birding Ottawa - Southeast - Mer Bleue / French Hill Loop
Spring: *** Summer: ** Fall: *** Winter: **
Independent Directions to this Site: From Highway 417 (The Queensway) take exit 96 (Boundary Road). Proceed 2.0 km NNW on Boundary Road to Russell Road (Regional 26). Turn right or ESE onto Russell and drive 3.5 km to Milton Road (Regional 31). Turn left or NNW on Milton and go about 2.0 km to the bridge. Start here.
Mer Bleue - French Hill Loop Route Directions: From the bridge at the Bear Brook at Milton Road site, continue along Milton Road, watching the fields on its west side for the next 3.9 km NNW to Smith Road.
Map of Milton Road area
Site Description and Birding Information: The range expansion of the Sandhill Crane has been impressive throughout eastern Ontario. Ottawa residents have had the benefit of observing firsthand the increase in these majestic birds. They have chosen Mer Bleue as one of their breeding areas, with an unknown number of birds nesting at the location.
Sometimes birders are lucky enough to spot them in the spring, when they have just arrived and have not yet settled into the business of nesting (late March and early April). They are difficult to see during the summer, but in fall (September through November) the young are brought out of the bog into the adjacent fields between Milton Road and Mer Bleue. Their numbers are augmented by birds from other colonies not so blessed with a handy food source. These birds are increasingly using this spot as a staging area. From one pair in the late eighties, they slowly expanded to half a dozen birds in the late nineties, and then more quickly to as many as 30 birds in the fall of 2001, and up to 47 in the fall of 2005, 74 in 2006, to a record of over 90 on Nov. 14, 2009. Sometimes they stay well back toward the bog and are hard to spot, but with a scope one can nearly always find them. Other times, they are quite cooperative and feed in the fields near the road, providing excellent views. High counts for the past four years are 74 (Nov. 13, 2006), 76 (Oct. 31, 2007), 69 (Nov. 9, 2008), 91-100 (Nov. 14, 2009) and 150 (Nov. 7, 2011).
Because of the burgeoning numbers, smaller flocks of cranes are being spotted in appropriate fields along other nearby roads.
Fields between Milton Road and Mer Bleue
Several areas along Milton Road north of Bear Brook are excellent for migrant grazing geese. The first kilometre or so from the bridge is excellent for resting geese in spring and fall. The Sandhill Crane area 2.5 km north of the bridge is also good for geese, as are the fields south of Smith Road. Most geese will favour the west side of Milton Road. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Canada Geese gather here. Often a few Snow Geese can be found among them. Now that it is recognized as a separate species, the Cackling Goose is sometimes found in these flocks. Scan carefully for the Greater White-fronted Goose that is probably there with the many Canada Geese. This species is being seen here almost annually in recent years. Ross's Goose, also becoming less rare, has occurred (1 or 2 adults Oct. 11-20, 2009; 1 juv. Oct. 12, 2009). The fields near Smith Road have had shorebirds, as well as geese, during fall migration, including Lesser Golden Plover (Sept. 1990), Hudsonian Godwit (Oct. 2010) and Cattle Egret (Sept. 1990 and Nov. 2010). Watch for migrant American Pipit, Horned Lark and Lapland Longspur in the fields along Milton Road.
Mer Bleue - French Hill Loop Route Directions: From the junction of Smith and Milton Roads, return SSE for the 3.1 km to Perrault Road. Turn left or east on it and drive 1.6 km to Trim Road and turn right or SSE on it. Proceed c. 0.5 km to the deadend and park. This is the next site on this loop, Bear Brook at Trim Road.
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Copyright © 2000 - 2011 Larry E. Neily
Last update: November 7, 2011